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Thursday, 17 December 2015

359: Rhine river cruise

I'm just back in harness after a very enjoyable and leisurely Rhine river cruise. The trip was from Basel up to Amsterdam and the journey to and from those cities was by train from London St Pancras via Eurostar and TGV/Thalys.

Here are a few pics from the trip.

The ship. We were almost in the bilges!

This row is Strasbourg

This row is Heidelberg

This row is from the wine tasting day

along the Mosel

The young girl who looked after our cabin obviously had secondary skills!

Cologne cathedral

Windmills at Kinderdijk

The Windmills of your mind

Sunday, 29 November 2015

358: Kazimierz Dolniy - again

358 blogs in and I can't avoid some repetition. I last visited Kazimierz Dolniy on 8th March. Went there again yesterday and came back today. (I have to go to many places twice just to apologize! :)) I hired a 'pot luck' car from SixT at Chopin airport and they gave me a Renault Megane. Nice car with an integral Satnav, which worked very well once I'd figured out how to change the masculine Polish voice to 'Jane' from UK. The car was almost new and sparkly clean when I got it. 24 hours, 360 km, and some Polish weather later it came back filthy. The weather was OK yesterday but it was dark by the time I got there. Looking out of the window after dinner I noticed we had had snow! Driving back today the snow had melted off the roads but was still lying on the fields. By the time I got to Warsaw there was no sign of it. By the time I got to Mlociny it was raining.
I stayed in the same hotel as last time (Zajazd Piastowski or, in English, The Piastovski Inn) and treated myself to a sauna before dinner last night. And a beer, or two, of course. It was a nice hotel despite the name, which might suggest that one could easily be displeased with it! I'm not explaining it - you either fall in or you don't!

I'm always impressed by the roadside shrines. They are in every village and town and always well-tended. 

A busy week coming up. Busier than it has been since before summer. Finally I'll be able to pay my rent :) And there's me taking half of December off. Just as business was picking up. Oh well, you can't take it with you. Just heard of another two colleagues from my military days who have contracted cancer and are about to start their chemo. Live for today. If & when tomorrow comes it's a blessing.
Finally, a tongue in cheek offering from Face Book, whilst I'm on the subject of poor health.

Monday, 9 November 2015

357: We will remember them

On the 11th hour of the 11th Day of the 11th month the United Kingdom pays homage to our servicemen and servicewomen who have fallen in conflicts during or since the First World War. On the Sunday before that, or on 11th if that is a Sunday, the Royal British Legion organises services of remembrance up and down the country to honour the people who gave their life so that we could enjoy the freedom that we as a nation now cherish. The largest service is at the Cenotaph in Whitehall and our Queen graces the occasion with her presence. Wreaths are laid at memorials in many cities, towns and villages.
Ramsey is no exception. The British Legion organised the parade yesterday afternoon and this was followed by a service in the church, conducted by the Bishop of Ely. The High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire also took part in the wreath laying and the church service.
I think that events such as these are part of the fabric of our society and help to bind us together as a nation. I would estimate there were about 100 people present for the wreath laying ceremony and the church was packed to the gunwales.
I was there, formally dressed for the occasion.
This morning I walked to the local cemetery to pay my respects to mum and dad and on the way there took the opportunity to take pictures of the wreaths which had been laid yesterday.

To finish, a long video clip of the 2014 parade at the cenotaph.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

356: Lazy Sunday afternoon!

This is so not me, sitting here, in my little flat in Warsaw, at 2.30 in the afternoon (dentist's time), and still with a towel wrapped around my waist - which is what passes for pyjamas in this household. I had my morning lesson, from 7 to 8, and then had the bright idea to go back to bed, or at least to go and lie on it "for a few minutes". I fell into a deep slumber until almost 11.30.  Woke up feeling almost refreshed and then committed my second sin of the day by turning on the computer and playing stupid solitaire. But it was OK, I only did it for an hour and a half! Doh! The trouble with taking "down time" like this is that outstanding jobs-to-do stack up behind you and the rest of the day becomes a matter of prioritizing and deciding which jobs must be done today and which can slip until tomorrow or, possibly, the day after. There are some lessons for tomorrow which I haven't yet prepared. That is a cardinal sin, to go into the classroom with nothing in the back pocket. The thought of being 60 minutes into a 90 minute lesson and having covered all the pre-planned material and having nothing in reserve fills me with dread. It happens occasionally and is one of the reasons why I like the job. The adrenalin "buzz" from thinking on your feet is, usually but not always, satisfying.
What day is it today? Sunday 1st November. All Saints' Day, especially in Catholic countries. Here in Poland, absolutely everybody goes to visit the grave(s) of their loved ones. The authorities even lay on buses to ferry people to the cemeteries. People place a candle, or perhaps a little lantern, at the graveside. When I realized yesterday that all the shops would be closed in Poland today I scurried off to my local supermarket. It was dark and quite an impressive sight passing the local cemetery on the tram and seeing the glow from hundreds of lanterns. Here is a picture from Google images.
Image result for all saints' day
What day is it tomorrow? Monday 2nd November. All Souls' Day, when Catholics in particular pray for their dearly departed.
No more. I've rambled on for long enough - perhaps too long.  Must crack on and do SOMETHING, even if it's only making a list!
My very best wishes to my dear sister who will be retiring at the end of this week. I wish her every happiness. Sorry to be missing the party on Saturday.

Monday, 26 October 2015

355: Peregrinations in Posnan

Decided to visit Poznan,  the fourth largest metropolitan area in Poland. My Inter-City train left Warsaw at 9.55 and arrived in Poznan some 2½ hours later. Amazing conversation in my compartment. There were 6 people: a Brit, a Russian, and 4 Germans. Each of us spoke at least 2 languages, in differing degrees of proficiency. It was really funny speaking Russian to one, stilted German to the next and English to the next. After a while I ran out of foreign words and stuck my nose in my Learn Polish text book.
On the Saturday evening I had a wander around the  old town (the cynic within me is beginning to think - if you've seen one old town in Poland, you've seen them all). Finished up in a very nice Mexican restaurant for an enormous chimichanga. Wanted posters were hanging from the ceiling and the light "chandeliers" were empty beer bottles.
Next, a quandary. I was due to have a Skype with a student at 9 a.m. Moscow time on Sunday morning. I figured out that because Europe (but not Russia) changes its clocks at 3 a.m on Sunday and Poland therefore became 2 hours behind Moscow then the lesson should take place at 7 a.m. Central European Time. I know that not everybody would be happy, or even awake, at 7 o'clock on a Sunday morning but I'm a lark and have no problem with this kind of routine. The trouble was that my watch and my mobile both have the capability to change automatically. So, waking up during the night after 3 a.m., I had no idea whether they had changed themselves or not. Luckily, the few grey cells I have left swung into action and caused me to look at the website where I discovered that Moscow was indeed 2 hours ahead. So my timepieces had, after all, changed themselves and I could go back to sleep fully synchronised with myself.

The hotel where I am staying is the Platinum Palace in Poznan, the sister, probably more accurately daughter, hotel of the one I stayed at in Wroclaw recently. On the plus side the tropical shower head is enormous and really nice to use. On the not quite so plus side the doors and side panels to the toilet/wash room/shower are of an (almost!) opaque glass and there are slits between the doors and the panels. If you should happen to be staying here with somebody it would be better if you knew them quite well!

On Sunday I decided to visit Lake Malta where there is a very large thermal waterpark. Wish I had thought to take some trunks with me. The largest waterpark in Poland with various pools and several types of sauna and steam bath including a tepidarium (??) and chill out zone. Termy Maltanskie

Off back to Warsaw today. Back to normality. Well,as normal as I do.

A couple of 'crazy' photos to finish. I'm not publishing many as the bandwidth in the hotel is not excessive.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

354: The Mannie

A very very quick blog today. Isn't it strange how some days there seems to be all the time in the world and others you don't know whether you're coming or going. You don't know whether you're on your bottom or your head to use the polite vernacular. Today is one of those days but I must try and squeeze in a blog because I want to share three photos and a video clip with you.
I took the first photo yesterday as I was walking to the shops. It was amusing watching the men handing building material down from floor to floor from hand to hand. As a computer nerd I have a quite different understanding of the term downloading!
I was trying to visualise the same thing happening when they were building the Shard in London! Took this photo on Waterloo East station when I was in UK last week.
How to switch topic from the Shard to a local flower shop? Well, I suppose as the Shard was being constructed it ROSE from the ground upwards. Boom boom!

And, to finish, a stolen (shared) video clip of the monument on Ben Bhraggie hill in Golspie, Sutherland. I climb to the top (of the hill, not the monument) every Summer as training for a Munro. Sadly no Munros conquered this Summer as the weather was too bad. Nice music too - a perfect day.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

353: Four countries in two days

It's nice to be back 'home' in Warsaw after my weekend trip to Slovakia. I stayed in a very pleasant boatel (a newish word for a boat that has been converted to a hotel) on the Danube at Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. The overnight train from Warsaw arrived at 5.30 on Saturday morning and I was immediately (but not literally) struck by how many hundreds of local people were milling about the station at that time of the morning. I found my way to the river (courtesy of google maps and piggybacking off a local hotel's wifi)  and the staff of the botel Gracia were kind enough to allow me to check in extremely early and to allow me an extra breakfast. Then a short nap - the overnight train journey had been enjoyable enough but the hard mattress put me in mind of what a morgue is probably like.
Having woken up refreshed I set off to explore the old town. (I'm beginning to think there's not a city in Eastern Europe that doesn't have an old town component). Very picturesque and chock-a-block full of tourists, even this late in the season. Some of the locals were dressed in period costume and performing re-enactments of various battles. Shots and explosions could be heard throughout the day. It takes more than that to wake me from my power naps. A nice city but apart from the old town and the castle, high on a hill overlooking the Danube, I don't think Bratislava itself has too much to offer tourists. I decided therefore to head to Vienna the next day. It is only an hour or so West along the Danube. I would have gone by boat but the water level was particularly low so lots of 'cruises' had been cancelled. I went by coach instead. Cheaper anyway. Vienna, capital of Austria, formerly one the two centres of the great Austro-Hungarian Empire, is a very grand city indeed with lots to see and do. It needed more than the few hours I gave it to do it justice. I managed to visit St Stephen's cathedral and then a short walk to view the (outside of the) opera house. After finally catching the right tram going in the right direction, I visited the Hundertwasser house and museum. What is that I hear you asking, as indeed I was until two days ago. It is a fine example of expressionist architecture (co-)designed by the Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000). It is a very unusual multi-coloured, multi-faceted, apartment block. Do please click here for some images. Found a nice little cafe there where I was able to speak Russian with the ByeloRussian ladies who were serving there and preparing the food. What a mix of cultures and nationalities everywhere these days. From there out to Belvedere (not that Belvedere, Hazel) to look at the Royal Palaces and gardens and then back to the centre of Vienna where it was time for afternoon coffee and cake in the very swish and suave (and of course pricey) Mozart Cafe.  Click here for more images.
Cultured out.
Time to head back to Bratislavia where, in stark contrast to the upmarket sophistication of the Mozart Cafe, I enjoyed a beer and a quesadilla in a pub/restaurant called Slang.
Monday arrived and it was time to catch a series of three trains back to Warsaw. The first train was 10 minutes late arriving so I was in mild panic mode for the 50 minutes or so up to Breclav, in the Czech Republic. The train stopped at 11.00 which was the right time for it to stop at Breclav. The burning question was had it made up the lost time or was it still running late. Looking down the platform I saw only a sign that said Kuty. Was that the name of the station or was it the Czech word for Exit? I got off and then mentally tossed a coin. Together with my weekend case, I jumped back on the train as it was moving off. Turned out to be the right decision as Breclav was 10 minutes further down the track. Thankfully they had been holding the next train until this one arrived so a quick change of platform and settle down on the next train, heading for Ostrava. Again in the Czech Republic. At Ostrava there was an hour to wait before catching the Prague->Warsaw express for the last leg of the journey. Time enough for lunch but whereas Slovakia now has the Euro for its currency, the Czech Republic uses Czech Krone so there was a need to change some Euros for Krone before buying food. Of course I could have waited until the train arrived and then eaten in the restaurant car and paid in Polish Zlotties but when it's lunch time it's lunch time.
This particular blog is now too long. Time to stop. Here are just a few photos of the trip but I do recommend clicking on the two links above - for the hundertwasserhaus and Mozart cafe.
Naturally enough there is also a video clip of the Blue Danube walz.
P.S. for Gareth - I think we must have Europe pretty much sewn up between us?
Statues like this are all over Europe and just as you convince yourself it is real the damn thing winks at you.

How incongruous is this - downtown Bratislava!

Bacchanalia - I'm sure I went to parties like this when I was (a lot) younger. If only I could remember.

I'm still trying to work out if the guy with the machine gun is supporting a wounded comrade or strangling an enemy.

Botel Gracia. I think I was 3 down and 1 across, or was it 1 down and 3 across. Who cares.

Bratislava castle at dusk.

I'd dearly love to be..... If I knew then what I know now.......

Sunday, 27 September 2015

352: Wrocław (as it is spelt) or Vrotswav ( as it is pronounced) - Part II

At Wrocław Kopernicus airport with about 4 hours to wait for my Ryanair flight back to Warsaw. A  silly boy for getting here so early but I wan't sure about tram/bus connections. Better safe than sorry and anyway I'm in the Business Lounge knocking back a G&T. Relax. Then perhaps another one. Relax some more.
Here then is the second, and final, chapter about my short stay in the lovely city of Wrocław.

One last picture from Friday evening. This is of the opera house. The voyeur within me was able to see the dancers through the top floor windows practising their repertoire and flinging a leg way up above their head. How do they do that?

On Saturday I wanted to visit three of the most well-known sights. Here are pictures of them together with a write-up as stolen from "Wrocław in your pocket".

"The anonymous pedestrians" 14 lifelike bronze statues are a memorial to the introduction of martial law on December 13th 1981 and the hordes of people who disappeared (went underground) in the middle of the night, courtesy of the miliitia.
Next, a haunting memorial to the infamous Katyn massacre:

These are the fountains at the Centennial hall. Unveiled in June 2009 in honour of the 20th anniversary of the first free elections in post-war Poland. They can project water up to 40 metres high through 300 different nozzles while music orchestrates the show through the park's speakers. In theory every hour on the hour and I made an effort to get there for midday when an 18 minute classical extravaganza had been promised. Unfortunately, it didn't happen.

Back to the hotel for a quick run around the adjacent park and then a sauna and jaccuzi to unwind after the day's exertions. It's lucky for everyone that I don't have a selfie stick!
Dinner in the hotel was a leisurely affair while they ignored me and concentrated on the 70 wedding guests in the next room. No problem - I wasn't in a rush (for a change).

Finally, a peek at 2 of the city's gnomes. Allegedly there are 300 of them dotted about. Here is a link to find out more about them - should you so wish!

To sum up, I enjoyed my visit tremendously. Must come back another time. Do widzenia Wrocław.